Zambia’s protest to FIFA against Sudan’s bizzare use of Saif Eldin Ali Idriss in crucial World Cup qualifier match played in June in Sudan, has sent blogoshphere into overdrive, with all sorts of permutations being bandied about. Some measure of insults and accusations have also done their rounds. New African Football wishes to weigh in with an analysis on this topical, yet emotive issue
THE FACTS OF THE ISSUE
The matter at hand is the use of an ineligible player – Saif Eldin Ali Idriss – by Sudan in a World Cup qualifier against Zambia on 2nd June, 2012. Saif’s alleged ineligibility arises because he was shown a red card in the 68th minute, during the quarter final match against Zambia at the 2012 African Cup of Nations tournament, for a reckless foul on Zambia’s Rainford Kalaba. This led to Zambia being awarded a penalty which was converted by Christopher Katongo. Saif dismissal meant he would miss two competitive matches before returning for Sudan.
According to unverified media reports, the Sudan technical staff decided to use Saif because the Confederation of African Football (CAF) did not inform them that the player was banned!! In media interviews, the player has himself acknowledged that he knew that he was ineligible to play but did so at the behest of the Sudan technical staff.
Disciplinary incidents arising from FIFA sanctioned matches are dealt with in compliance with the Fifa Disciplinary Code. In fact according to Article 8 Para. 2 of the Regulations for 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil, protests regarding eligibility of players are to be decided according to the FIFA Disciplinary Code. The onus for fielding only eligible players is left to the national associations themselves.
According to Article 18 Paragraph 4 of the Code, a player who is expelled from a game, by being shown a red card, is automatically suspended from the subsequent match.
Article 55 Para.1 of the Fifa Disciplinary Code further provides that:
” If a player takes part in an official match despite being ineligible, his team will be sanctioned by forfeiting the match and paying a minimum fine of CHF 6,000″.
With regard to forfeiting the match, the
Fifa Disciplinary Code in Article 31 para.1 emphasizes that:
“A team sanctioned with a forfeit is considered to have lost the match by 3-0”.
With regard to protests, Article 14 para.2 of
the Regulations for 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil states that:
“…..protests shall be submitted in writing to the FIFA Match Commissioner or the FIFA general coordinator within two hours of the match in question and followed up immediately with a full written report, including a copy of the original protest, to be sent in writing and by registered letter to the FIFA general secretariat within 24 hours of the end of the match, otherwise they shall be disregarded.”
Article 14 para.3 of the Regulations also addresses eligibility of “nominated” players and provides that protests with regard to these should be lodged “within one hour of the match in question”. This has to be immediately followed up with a full written report, including a copy of the original protest.
APPLYING THE LAW TO THE FACTS
Going by the provisions of
the Law cited above, the subsequent match for Saif after his expulsion from the quarter final match at the Africa Cup of Nations, was the June 2012 World Cup qualification encounter between Zambia and Sudan in which he played despite being automatically suspended.
Therefore, it appears that Zambia has a very strong case against Sudan. On the face of it, Sudan has no plausible defence for featuring a player who was serving an automatic suspension. However, it also appears that Zambia did not comply with the time limitations stated in Article 14 of the Regulations for 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil of lodging its protest within the stipulated time period.
WILL ZAMBIA’S FAILURE TO LODGE PROTEST WITHIN THE TIME STIPULATED BY ARTICLE 14 OF THE REGULATIONS DEFEAT ITS CASE?
It is unlikely that FIFA, whose ethos are predicated on “Fair Play”, can find it within itself to defeat Zambia’s bona fide protest on account of its failure to observe a time limited deadline.
The aspect of limited time periods for launching protests has been introduced by the Regulations for 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil. However, the over-aching law with regards to all disciplinary matters is the Fifa Disciplinary Code. This Code does not impose time limits in lodging of protests with regard to eligibility of players. The Regulations for 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil are subordinate to the Fifa Disciplinary Code, which applies to every match and competition organised by FIFA.
In general law, where there are time limits within which a case can be taken for adjudication, a Court or tribunal is able to extend such a time if it considers it equitable to do so. This means that there would need to be good grounds for an extension of time. The court will consider all the facts that are relevant. However, the stricter time limit, set by FIFA in its Regulations for the 2014 World Cup, for raising protests is justified because the qualifiers have to be played within a restricted time period hence the need to promptly settle disputes before the competition moves on to another phase.
The question then would be – will FIFA decide to dismiss Zambia’s complaint for being filed out of time when a greater infraction was committed by Sudan’s featuring an ineligible player in defiance of the spirit of fair play
PRECEDENTS OF FIFA SANCTIONING TEAMS FOR USING INELIGIBLE PLAYERS
FIFA awarded Gabon three points against Togo during the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup when the latter fielded Abdul Mamah despite his being suspended for picking up two yellow cards in earlier matches. FIFA awarded Gabon a 3-0 win.
FIFA also awarded a 3-0 victory to United Arab Emirates in an Olympic soccer qualifying match when Iraq was adjudged to have fielded an ineligible player who should have been suspended for the game as he had received two yellow cards in two previous matches. Similarly, Oman was also awarded a win over Qatar in February 2012 after the latter fielded an ineligible player.
The stakes in the African series of the World Cup qualifiers are quite high considering that Africa only has five allocated places. Zambia, Lesotho, Ghana and Sudan are in Group D. The Group is led by Sudan with 4 points while Zambia and Ghana are tied at 3 points with Lesotho having a single point. If Sudan were to forfeit 3 points, Zambia would be propelled to the summit of Group D with 6 points. On paper, such a lead would appear to be unassailable as the African champions are neither expected to lose at home to Sudan nor home and away to Lesotho. The Chipolopolos’ last qualifier will be away to Ghana and it might be the decider for Group D of who goes to the next round. The Black Stars of Ghana, who have creditably appeared at the last two editions of the World Cup, will feel that the brainless act of fielding an ineligible player by the Sudanese football federation has dwarfed its chances of reaching a third successive World Cup.